Sunday 15 December 2019

Stem cells put into plasters and bandages thanks to seaweed technique

Professor Che Connon (left) and Dr Stephen Swiokio demonstrate the plaster (Newcastle University)
Professor Che Connon (left) and Dr Stephen Swiokio demonstrate the plaster (Newcastle University)

Stem cells have been put into plasters and bandages to help heal wounds for the first time thanks to a new technique involving seaweed, scientists have said.

Encasing stem cells in alginate gel makes them more practical to use and easy to store, even at room temperature, Newcastle University has found.

The low-cost protective cover made from seaweed acts similarly to frogspawn, creating a barrier from the environment.

That allowed researchers to make bandages containing human stem cells which could be applied to wounds to speed up the healing process.

Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, said: "The stem cells are surrounded by an alginate gel which protects them from the environment - a bit like frogspawn.

"We found them unchanged even after three days at room temperature.

"This has lots of advantages and applications.

"For example, we have used them to make a bandage which contains human stem cells which could be applied to a wound such as an ulcer or burn to speed up the healing process."

Medics have known that stem cells from fatty tissue can be used to treat wounds by reducing inflammation and speeding up closure, but until now they have had to be stored and handled carefully.

Having to keep them at 37C and in the correct combination of oxygen and carbon dioxide has limited their practical use.

The Newcastle team has produced research showing the gel can protect cells for up to three days.

Alginate is a natural material extracted from seaweed that is used in cosmetics, food manufacturing and more recently in healthcare.

It is already used in wound dressings to keep burns moist.

Researchers think the alginate may be acting like a corset, preventing the stem cell from expanding and being destroyed, a process known as lysing.

This would normally occur within a day when unprotected cells are stored in their liquid state.

Bandages with stem cells could be used by paramedics at the scene of an accident or by Army medics on the battlefield and some of the funding for the work has come from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), part of the Ministry of Defence.

The findings are published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

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